Teaching 101: A lesson during a pandemic

In today’s lesson, you need to imagine you are in front of 13 teens. You have three computer screens. Each separate screen has its own function. One is connected to the whiteboard. One has the tabs for the students at home. One has assignments and notes. It is easier to toggle between three screens than multiple tabs on two. Only one screen is no longer an option.

There are also 10 student icons on the computer. They represent those who are at home for many different reasons. Perhaps a parent has cancer or a sibling has severe asthma. Maybe they are scared or their parents are scared. Either way, I have never seen them, but by this time in the year, I can identify them by their disembodied voice.

It is time to teach the lesson. GoGuardian, a voyeuristic device, gives me the ability to see and control everyone’s screen. A student in class still surreptitiously reaches for his cell phone. He is reprimanded before it even reaches his lap. A student raises his hand and asks to go the bathroom. You ask him to wait because if he misses a moment of instruction, he will be behind.

You project your lesson onto the Meet as well as the board in the front of the room. You have written the directions you are speaking, but you read them aloud anyway. You get to the end, and ask if there are any questions.

A small, cartoon hand pops up on the screen. You see that it is Jack.

“Yes, Jack?” You call through space and time. There is a pause. There is always a pause as students toggle back to the Meet to unmute.

“Yeah, what are we doing?” Some students laugh, not because they know, but because they think it’s more amusing that Jack does not.

You explain the directions again. Jack unmutes and says, “Okay, thanks.”

“Any more questions?” A hand goes up in the back of the room.

“Yes, Vittoria, what’s up?”

“I’m sure you already said this, but do we read up to page 20?” The question is so off-base that you realize the explanation has been inadequate. You explain the directions again, but you know many are not listening. Each assignment comes with a 85% error rate. Eight out of every ten students needs to redo assignments because they did not follow directions. Directions over the internet or from behind a desk with three screens and a plastic shield and a cotton mask do not always come across very well. It is not their fault.

But you are always happier when they ask questions. It’s when they are silent that you know there will be more errors. Harder to fix ones.

By the end of the class, you are exhausted. You have made sure that John ‘s screen moved from just showing the Meet, and Lily’s was able to fix her assignment to get full credit. You helped Mary figure out where the counseling office is because she needed to leave early to plan her classes for next year. You also took a phone call from the nurse who was looking for a student who needed to go down to the office for his meds. And you taught the lesson you spent three hours creating and you will spend another two hours grading it that night.

The bell rings and it is now time to make sure the students sprayed down their desks. You will have exactly five minutes before your next class arrives. You have to adjust your settings and your Meet and make sure your assignments are published. You need to get ready for the twelve masked faces and the twelve floating icons. A student walks in and you are quite sure, despite the fact that it is March, you have never seen him before.

“Hello,” you say as you muster your energy for another 53 minutes. “I am so happy to see you all.”

Repeat three more times and then leave for the day.